Brad Freeman, “Sumo Geisha Sashimi”

The cover was offset printed by me in black, cyan, yellow, 70% black overall, and silver/magenta. The 70% black print run between the yellow and silver/magenta was used to place a darkened yet transparent wall or barrier between the geisha and the viewer — this is meant to add a sense of veiled mystery which is part of the allure of the geisha. The symmetrical silver/magenta pattern evokes the decorated fabric and brocade of a kimono within which the geisha is wrapped/trapped. I bound the book using a traditional Japanese stab binding (yotsume toji) because this form seemed appropriate to the subject. But the position of the beginning and ending follow the western tradition with the binding on the left.

The photograph on the verso is of sumo wrestlers at the very beginning of their match as they surge forward into each other. The referee and audience are behind the wrestlers. The geisha is in the audience. The same photograph repeats on the verso throughout the book, zooming in closer and closer to the geisha. A man butchers a tuna on the recto – this is part of the process of making sashimi. When I arrived at this sashimi store in Tokyo’s giant fish market the tongue of the tuna had already been removed as the first step in the process.

The verso – this is a closer point of view of the sumo wrestlers (and geisha). The recto – a group of people closely observing the butchering, one young woman takes photographs with her phone – an example of the ubiquity of photography.

The verso – this is a closer point of view of the sumo wrestlers (and geisha). The recto – this is a continuation of the butcher cutting off the head of the tuna.

The verso – a closer point of view of the sumo wrestlers (and geisha). The recto – the butcher has cut off the tuna’s head and is removing it for display in the front of the store.


ArtistBrad Freeman (Chicago, IL)

Title: Sumo Geisha Sashimi (2013)

Medium/technique(s): over – offset lithography on Mohawk Superfine;  Text block – inkjet on kozo paper;  Japanese stab binding with boards;

Edition size: 40

Number of pages:  86

Dimensions, open: 8.25” x 13” x .625”

Dimensions, closed: 8.25” x 7.25”


Artist Statement:

As an artist I make books to present an abundance of material and ideas in a very small package. Within a book, artists can explore many facets of an issue over time. Complexity and resonance can build as the pages are turned. A single image exists within the context of what happened before and implies what might occur on future pages.

The photographs that comprise the book sumo geisha sashimi were taken by me during a trip to Japan in 2011. The photograph of a televised sumo wrestling match with the audience in the background repeats on each verso page through the entire book. The image enlarges slightly with each turn of the page — we are zooming in toward a geisha in the audience.

The images on the recto are a sequence of photographs taken during a period of about thirty minutes of a man butchering (sabuku — cutting with a sharp blade) a tuna at the Tokyo fish market. This is an early step in the process of making sashimi.

The book consists of two temporal systems appearing at the same time, with one time system on the verso and one on the recto. Both temporal systems exist simultaneously on the plane of the page spread with the gutter separating the two systems. On each verso page one moment is captured in a photograph and gradually enlarges with each turn to reveal the geisha. On the recto a sequence of moments captured photographically displays the butchering of a tuna.

The codex form provides the perfect container for linking these two time systems to create an associative viewing experience.

A couple of the issues on my mind during the making of this book included a feminist critique on the position of the geisha and the ecological implications of over-fishing. I was also considering the idea of performance – the wrestling match and the butchering of the tuna are performances with an audience. The geisha in this case is in the audience — a role reversal for her since she is usually the performer — geisha means artist in Japanese and her performances include dancing, singing, and playing a musical instrument.

The sumo wrestlers, geisha, and butcher reveal the strictly defined roles common in traditional Japanese culture. In fact, we all inhabit particular roles and positions that come with certain expectations. We are defined by culturally manufactured identities. Sometimes we have a choice, sometimes circumstance dictates position. In sumo geisha sashimi the repetition of the photographs offer the viewer a chance to contemplate the years of training and self-discipline required of the three main players to perform their responsibilities.